Neo-Nazis protest 2 Georgia synagogues over the weekend


((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Two Georgia synagogues were targeted by nearly identical antisemitic protests over the weekend, both allegedly organized by a neo-Nazi group that has gained notoriety in recent months.

On Friday, a group of around 10 to 15 protesters gathered outside Temple Beth Israel, a Reform congregation in Macon, a city in central Georgia. They carried crude signs, hung an effigy from a post and spouted antisemitic vitriol before being broken up by police. 

The next day, around 11 people waved swastika flags and displayed very similar antisemitic messages outside a Chabad center in Marietta, Georgia, about 100 miles to the north. The signs blamed Jews for wielding control over elected officials or institutions, such as the media and the Federal Reserve. Another sign reportedly referenced the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner, which took place in Marietta. 

Both protests appeared to be the work of the Goyim Defense League, a neo-Nazi group that has spread its messaging and instigated other antisemitic incidents around the country. The organization’s leader, Jon Minadeo II, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and public disturbance following the protest in Macon, and signs at the Marietta demonstration referenced the group’s streaming channel. 

The group’s propaganda reportedly inspired shootings of two Jews outside synagogues in Los Angeles earlier this year. Last year, the group hung antisemitic signs over a Los Angeles freeway and, soon afterward, projected the same message onto a stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, the state where the group is based. 

According to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League, the group was responsible for nearly 500 incidents of antisemitic propaganda in 2022. Flyers bearing the group’s hallmarks had been found in Cobb County, where Marietta is located, days before the protest, and some were also discovered last week in the town of Warner Robins, near Macon. 

“By spreading antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories, blaming Jews for everything from COVID-19 to perceived grievances around immigration, pornography and abortion, GDL hopes to turn Americans against the Jewish people,” read a statement from the ADL’s chapter in the southeastern United States following the attacks.

Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar of Temple Beth Israel addressed the protest outside her synagogue in a sermon that evening. She said it was the first time, to her knowledge, that the 164-year-old congregation had experienced an antisemitic incident.

“The fact that there were protesters outside the temple on Friday night, saying horrific things, doing horrific things, tells me that there is a tremendous amount of anger in our community,” Bahar said in her sermon, portions of which were shared on social media.

The next day, as Macon community leaders attended an anti-hate rally in support of the temple, antisemitic protesters gathered outside Chabad of Cobb in Marietta. That group quickly attracted a large crowd of counterprotesters, some of whom began arguing with the neo-Nazis and yelling at them to go home, according to the Atlanta Jewish Times. Law enforcement also showed up to block the antisemitic protesters’ access to the synagogue.

“East Cobb has been a wonderful home to a flourishing Jewish community for many years. These individuals do not represent the sentiments of the citizens of East Cobb,” the Chabad of Cobb said in a statement posted to social media. The synagogue also noted that police had “identified these individuals as part of a small group that travel around the country in order to spread their hateful message.”

Although the protesters arrived during a Shabbat service, Rabbi Ephraim Silverman told the Atlanta Jewish Times that he “did not sense any fear at all from anyone” during the service. The next day, the Chabad held an open house for its synagogue as previously scheduled.

Statewide elected officials from both parties have responded forcefully to the antisemitic incidents. Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is Jewish, said in a statement, “Georgia’s Jewish community will never be intimidated by anti-Semitism. Today, as symbols of genocide were paraded in front of synagogues, we continue to stand strong, proud, and unbowed.”

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock tweeted, “This has got to stop. Praying for our Jewish community in Georgia and beyond. We must all raise our voices loudly against this vile hate.” Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted, “There is absolutely no place for this hate and antisemitism in our state.” 

Local officials in both locations also issued statements in support of the Jewish community following the incidents. Lisa Cupid, chairwoman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, said that the antisemitic protests “impair our sense of community when all should feel safe and welcome here.”

Marietta has a noted history of antisemitism due to Frank’s lynching, which was committed by a local mob after Frank was falsely accused of murdering a girl. Neo-Nazi groups have repeatedly referenced the lynching in their propaganda, insisting despite evidence to the contrary that Frank was guilty of the charges leveled against him. 

Earlier this year, neo-Nazis also picketed a Broadway revival of the musical “Parade,” which is about Frank’s story. The show, which has been praised for shining renewed light on antisemitism in America, went on to win a Tony.